Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series, titled My Former Life, that explores what jobs area residents had before moving and/or retiring to Aiken.
As a young man, Chuck Munns was looking for adventure and leadership opportunities. He found everything he wanted, and more, in the U.S. Navy during his 34 years of service.
Munns, who spent a lot of time on submarines, visited every ocean in the world and traveled under Arctic ice. He started as an ensign and rose steadily in rank to reach the vice admiral level, which meant he was one of the Navy's top officers.
In 2004, Munns became the commander of the U.S. and NATO submarine forces. Three years later, he retired.
“If I had a chance to do it again, I wouldn't change a thing,” Munns said.
After leaving the Navy, Munns moved to Aiken in 2008 and tackled another challenge. He was the president and CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions when it began overseeing the Savannah River Site's management and operations. His stint there ended in 2010, and today he is the chair of the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, a commissioner with the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education and an adviser to U.S. Strategic Command.
Following a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Aiken, Munns, 64, talked about his military career.
“I believe in service to country,” he said. “Anyone who serves in the military plays a very important role. They give up a normal part of their life to do it, and everyone should be grateful to them.”
When Munns graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973, he knew he wanted to be a submarine officer.
“I was a physics major,” Munns said. “I liked the technology of submarining and I was interested in nuclear power, so that's the reason being on (why) a submarine was my ultimate choice.”
Munns lived aboard five submarines beginning with the USS Seadragon in 1974 and ending with the USS Richard B. Russell in the early 1990s. He was the Richard B. Russell's commander.
“At the time I graduated from the Naval Academy, the Vietnam War was nearly over, and the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War,” Munns said.
Under the sea, the crews on our country's submarines and Soviet subs worked hard to keep track of each other.
“It was like hide-and-seek,” Munns said. “We were trying to detect them without being detected ourselves. We wanted to get close enough to their submarines to understand how they operated so that if a fighting war ever started, we could prevail. We felt like we were doing something important that our nation needed us to do.”
While continuing his climb on the naval command ladder, Munns advanced from being responsible for a submarine squadron to being in charge of a submarine group. His experiences in the Navy took him to all sorts of places, including Hawaii, Seattle, San Francisco, Italy and the Pentagon.
Munns also got to meet all sorts of people, including Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“Much of what I did was classified, but I can tell you that I did get to brief President (George H.W.) Bush down in the Situation Room (in the basement of the White House),” Munns said. “That was pretty cool.”
Munns also had the opportunity to be around two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, a four-star general in the U.S. Army and the first black Secretary of State.
“Rumsfeld was easy to talk to because he was blunt; you understood exactly what he meant,” Munns said. “He was also very intelligent and very demanding.”
Munns described Powell as “much more thoughtful.” But like Rumsfeld, Powell was very demanding.
“He (Powell) put in procedures so that the Pentagon could answer any question that got asked within a day,” Munns said. “He didn't want to wait months for an answer, and what he did made everything much more precise.”
But not all of the memorable people that Munns met were famous.
“I worked with some really great submariners,” Munns said. “I'm proud of what we all did.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.